By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
People go to college and pursue undergraduate degrees for a multitude of reasons. While many may think future earnings are the driving force, findings from Strada’s national survey show money is just one of the many factors motivating students.
Strada’s 2021 national alumni survey, released Wednesday, includes responses from 3,309 alumni who completed their undergraduate degrees in the past 20 years and attempts to underscore the value of an undergraduate degree at a time when enrollment is shrinking and students' perception of the value of a degree is shifting.
Notably, among the alumni who responded, being able to qualify for a good job, gaining skills to be successful in their career field, and advancing in their career were all identified more often as very important reasons for pursuing education over factors such as being able to make more money and being able to support themselves and their family.
“If we stopped with only measuring [money] then you'd be missing a lot in terms of what students are hoping to get out of their education,” said Nichole Torpey-Saboe, director of research at Strada Impact, during a panel Wednesday detailing the survey data. “Career goals are important and they're not exactly the same as making more money.”
Personal factors, such as learning new things, was cited by 84% of respondents as a very important reason for pursuing education.
Overall, 75% of respondents said they earn more than $40,000 after completing their undergraduate degree and that their college education was worth the cost. And 80% said a college degree helped them achieve their goals. Those three indicators make up what Strada calls its framework for measuring postsecondary success.
Taken together, roughly more than half of respondents reported they are achieving all three of these indicators.
While an undergraduate education helps students achieve a variety of post-degree goals, Black alumni almost across the board were less likely to feel they met their goals after earning their degree. There were significant gaps in responses from Black and white alumni when it came to factors such as feeling their education helped them to advance in their career, or to make more money, or to be the best person they could be, underscoring the fact that “not everyone is experiencing college in the same way,” Torpey-Saboe added.
With findings showing strong motivation in career advancement and success beyond being simply measured in financial earnings, Andy Chan, vice president for innovation and career development at Wake Forest University, said it's beyond time to reimagine how schools prepare students for their career.
“The way we're doing [career services] is the way we've done it for decades, and the world has changed. Our students have changed,” Chan said. “We have new tools at our fingertips and we need to change with it.”
Following graduation, the survey found that those who reported quality experiences connecting their education to career preparation during their time in school earned more money and were more likely to agree that their education was worth the cost and helped them to achieve their goals.
Chan added that the survey data of alumni who hold bachelor's degrees is necessary to be able to measure student outcomes beyond completion.
“Schools have to start to think about, ‘What are we really measuring? How are we doing when it comes to student career readiness?’” Chan said. “If we actually know that, then we can intervene while they're at school as opposed to waiting until they graduate and finding out we didn't serve them so well.”
Publication Date: 10/28/2021